The stereotype of Kansas is that it’s flat, as in from corner to corner, dreadful to drive across, flat. For those of us who live in the state, it’s debatable where this rumor began but where do most stereotypes begin? They begin with a tiny kernel of truth stretched to become more than it is. Thus, a small truth about Kansas – that parts of it are flat – has somehow become the entirety of our image. The funny thing about this is I’ve traveled all over the United States (Thanks, Mom and Dad) and guess what I found in those travels? There is flat land in nearly every state in our union. Shocked? I didn’t think so.
Our ranch in the southwestern part of the state has some flat land but is also bless with wonderful rolling hills, canyons and ravines, bluffs and buttes, and trees and vegetation. So much for the stereotype. The Flint Hills well-known as a completely NOT flat part of Kansas and our part of Kansas also not flat and the north-eastern part of the state is not flat either. Stereotype. What I love about my state is that I live here in these wonderful rolling hills and canyons and listen to the flat hype, and it’s this wonderful secret Kansas and I keep.
This is how writers need to approach stereotypes in writing. Find that kernel of truth, use it but also know where the kernel of truth butts up against that hype of type. The minute something becomes “everyone knows Kansas is flat” as writers we know we have a job to do. We have to show readers that what “everyone knows” is actually 1/4 of the actuality. As writers you’ve only succeeded if you do your research, and make sure that your cop is more than the stereotype who eats donuts and drinks too much, your librarian is more than a single lady with a bun who only reads classics, or your construction worker is more than a catcalling, macho guy with the intellect of concrete. Turn those stereotypes off. Take the kernel of truth and build characters of true depth with crags and hills and valleys and vegetation.
What tricks do you use to avoid stereotype in characters?